You would think anyone secure in their beliefs would be content to explain their reasons and have done with it, confident that their beliefs are based on sound reasoning which can stand the test of doubt and counter argument. Even in the absence of good evidence you would think they could explain the inescapable logic behind their beliefs and the faults with all the other logic.
Surely, Christianity, with it's worship of 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild' who tells us to forgive our enemies and turn the other cheek, and of a god of peace and goodwill to all, is going to use non-violence against its doubters, especially those who simply disagree over some detail or other of the nature of their god and how exactly it should be worshipped? Surely, in the spirit of brotherly love, a good Christian secure in his own beliefs would simply explain to the doubter where and why he had gone wrong and trust the doubter to see the good sense of his argument.
Well, if you believe what they tell us, that might be what you expect, but is that expectation born out by the facts?
Not a bit of it.
The facts show that's not how religion, and particularly Christianity works. What we see is not a confident presentation of the arguments, but an assertiveness and ready resort to violence which betrays a lack of any such confidence and which betrays an underlying fear of counter-argument.
This time next week we'll be well on our way to the South of France, to the Languedoc-Rousillon region where, in the middle ages, one of Christianity's many little wars of persecution and violent suppression of dissent and disagreement took place - the crusade against the Cathars, also known as the Albigensians after the town of Albi, called the Cathar or Albigensian Crusade of 1209-1229.
The Cathars regarded themselves as Christians. Catharism had spread into Northern Italy and Southern France, especially the Languedoc region into the Pyrenees. It's origins are slightly obscure but seems to have included elements of the Paulician movement from Armenia, Bogomil gnosticism from Bulgaria, Egyptian Arianism and Persian Manichaeism.
In those days, the more powerful centres of Christianity, despite a frenzy of persecution and document burning which followed the recognition by Constantine of Christianity as the official state religion, had not managed to suppress all the various sects which the early Christians had spawned in the first few centuries after Paul of Tarsus and others had exported their different versions of the myths to various parts of the Eastern Roman Empire. In addition, many of these were co-existing with Islam and rubbing shoulders with other ideas like Buddhism coming along the developing trade routes across Central Asia, so there were a large number of bizarre creeds all coming under the broad umbrella of Christianity on the basis that they were centred on a belief in the Biblical Jesus and on various translations and interpretations of early versions of documents and 'gospels', some of which found themselves sanitized and bound up into the official Bible.
Basically, Cathars believed there are two gods, a bad one (Satan) who created the material world, and a good one (Jehovah), and that Jesus was a messenger from Jehovah whose teachings should be followed to avoid Satan's evil. They believed that at best, Jesus was only God's son and not God, so they denied the Trinity as taught by both the Roman and Orthodox Churches. They also rejected oaths, including marriage and taught that sex was sinful and anything which was the result of sexual reproduction was also satanic, so they were vegetarian. Obviously no one had told them how plants reproduce but at least they knew it didn't involve dangley bits and pleasure.
The presence of the Cathars was encouraging regional independence in southern France which meant the Catholic French King was losing his grip on his southern barons, but of course their worst 'sin' was in rejecting the authority of Pope Eugene III and even refusing to pay tithes! To make matters worse, in theological debate, the Cathars were winning more often than not, seeming to appeal particularly to the theologically literate, so the Catholic church was losing its local intelligentsia, and being humiliated. Whole congregations were reputedly converting en masse along with their clerics (who probably knew which way the wind seemed to be blowing). This clearly could not be tolerated, so, after feeble attempst to convert them by sending a Cistercian monk, a cardinal and a bishop to preach to them, all to no lasting effect, the Papacy resorted to the time-honour fall-back theological arguments - violence and murder.
When Pope Innocent III came to power he asked King Phillip Augustus of France to launch a military campaign against the Cathars. Phillip Augustus sent Simon de Montfort and Bouchard de Marly, two of his more ambitious barons. To encourage their religious zeal, Pope Innocent III ordered that all Cathar land could be seized. There followed twenty years of 'persuasive' murder and persecution. In one siege, Simon de Montford ordered that 100 captured Cathars should have their eyes gouged out and their lips and noses cut off, then be sent back to the town of Béziers, led by a captive with one eye remaining.
Béziers was also defended by a large number of Catholics who had opted to stay to protect their homes and property when offered free passage at the start of the siege. As the siege came to an end, Arnaud, the Cistercian abbot-commander who had ordered that all the Cathars were to be killed, was asked how to tell the Cathars from Catholics. His answer was a tribute to his humanity and Christian love for his fellow man. "Kill them all, the Lord will recognise his own". When the doors of the church of St Mary Magdalen were broken down, the 7,000 people who had taken refuge in it were dragged out and killed. In all, up to 20,000 people from the town were killed by being used for target practice and by being dragged behind horses for sport, interspersed no doubt, with bouts of brotherly love, goodwill and reasoned discourse on matters theological. Or perhaps not.
On 16 March 1244, 200 Cathars were ritually massacred by being burned alive on a large fire outside the Cathar-held castle of Montségur.
So, it's good to see that Christians, confident in their faith and in their reasons for holding to it, are able to persuade their fellow man to see the good sense of their theological arguments and are able to practice the teaching of Jesus to forgive their enemies and not live by the sword, the way they tell the rest of us we should live.
Or it would be, if only examples of them doing so were virtually non-existent and if only there were not so many examples of them doing exactly the opposite.
Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc
The Cathars: What was the Albigensian Crusade?
Cathars & Albigenses: What Was Catharism? What did Cathars Believe?